Some news stories seem to retain their impact years after they happen. For members of my generation, our most rapt experience with the news was the September 11 attacks. Nearly every memory from high school seems further away than the visions and emotions from that day in my eighth grade. My parents speak of the Kennedy assassination in the same way. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 is a similarly engraved memory that has lost little of its luster after five years. Out of the untold millions of bits of information we consume every year, these are the select few keystones along our timelines that recall the past with effortless immediacy.
There is also an opposite type of event: the news story that we cannot believe possibly happened as recently as it did. These events become part of our national landscape immediately and seem obvious in retrospect, leaving us to wonder,"Wow, was this really an issue that recently?" For examples of this instantly-assimilated type of current event, we need look no further the two biggest news stories of this week. In 10 years, both will be hard to remember as being relevant as late as 2013.
Gay Marriage. Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor heralded the victorious endgame of the gay-marriage movement. Even past the issue of marriage equality itself, Justice Kennedy infused his opinion with a palpable respect for the “dignity” of homosexual unions, as if to purposely emphasize the contrast between the compassionless intent of DOMA and his antidote to it. The opinion included respectful mention of gay adoption and gay families, which as a result of the Windsor ruling are going to continue to become a common sight in American life.
As a PolicyMic article recently explained, interracial marriages were barred in some states until 1967’s Loving v. Virginia opened the door to (straight) marriage between people of any color. It’s hard to fathom that interracial marriage faced legal challenge so recently. The same astonishment will soon be linked to this week’s court decision. Gay couples will proceed to be incrementally freer to form stable families as time goes on, and the memory of the fuming opposition to their doing so will soon be swept under whatever rug holds the ruins of past right-wing stances.
Where is Edward Snowden? This story is showing every indication of taking a turn for the trivial, as the focus shifted from spying on citizens to Carmen Sandiego. The key to how such a massive exposé could slide from outrage to acceptance was best summarized by Eugene Robinson when the story first broke: “Someday, a young girl will look up into her father’s eyes and ask, ‘Daddy, what was privacy?’”
In the immortal (or at least millennial) words of Mark Zuckerberg, privacy is dead. The idea that Americans once raised fists over the collection of metadata that we knowingly conceded to third party vendors is going to seem quaint by October, let alone in 2023, when even more of our lives will be lived in digital communalism. One day, we’re going to see PRISM as a precaution as reasonable as surveillance cameras in Times Square.
Our imminent acceptance of what Edward Snowden exposed is a forceful argument for taking up the issue now and demanding legal fences be put up around the surveillance programs immediately. The initial shock of Snowden’s revelation was that we didn’t know the programs existed. It took very little time for that to seem naïve. We probably can’t stop the programs, but we can implement strict rules regulating the use of the data they gather and impose consequences on misuse of that data. It is crucial to not waste the momentum of Snowden’s story by letting him toss on the waves of the news cycle, and letting our brief outrage become nostalgia. As of this week, it’s not looking good.